Some of my most enjoyable hikes have been autumn adventures. In addition to the obvious lure of colorful fall foliage displays, hitting the trail in autumn offers an insect-free environment, sparkling clear-day views and an excellent opportunity to view woodland wildlife during the “leaf-out” season.
I’ve found solitude in this season on trails around Europe and across America. Even the wildlands around such major tourist destinations as Aspen and Cape Cod have little trail traffic in the fall.
Autumn has its critics and its fans. Some say there’s little use for a day that begins with frost, becomes hot enough to sunburn your nose by noon, and has you shivering by sunset. Wiser heads, those attached to hikers no doubt, believe autumn is the best of all seasons. The high country air is crisp, but still inviting, the woodlands offer great opportunities for wildlife watching. Southern regions and the high desert have cooled enough for pleasant hiking.
Planning for an Autumn Hike
1. Fall weather often brings highly changeable hiking conditions. You could face an unseasonable heat wave or an ice storm, an Indian summer or early winter.
2. Check the weather forecast for the day you’re hiking and, if you can, check again with local authorities on the morning you start up the trail.
3. Autumn days are shorter days. Remember that sunsets come earlier at this time of the year, so be sure to return to the trailhead before dark. Because of the shorter days, try to get a very early start. If you’re on the trail bright and early, behold the many birds, usually most active and in best songster form during the first few hours of daylight.
4. Layer, now more than ever. Layering, as an outdoor dress methodology, is important in every season, particularly in autumn. With layers, the hiker can prepare for early morning and late afternoon chills and bright and sunny conditions at midday. Wear three or four layers and shed them as the temperature rises.
5. The autumn hiker should also remember rainwear. Pack it, even if the weathercaster is predicting a week of clear days. Fall sunlight can be intense so remember your sunscreen and sunglasses.
6. Autumn is the season to don those convertible pants, the ones with zip-off legs that convert to shorts. A hat will keep your head warm in the morning, cool in the afternoon.
Autumn’s Special Pleasures
Wildlife Watching Late in the fall, with the deciduous trees now bare, birds, deer and many more creatures are easier to spot.
Bug Free Trails No insects to plague hikers! After the first cold snap or frost, most of the little biters and stingers are dead or hibernating.
Solitude Park and forest trails are almost always un-crowded and it’s possible you could have a whole mountain, small or large, almost to yourself.
Travel Deals Take a trip and take a hike. From airplane tickets to lodging at mountain resorts, travel is cheap in the fall. Be spontaneous to take advantage of last-minute deals.